This sighting will stay with me until the day I die… With Wild Dog populations being drastically endangered, seeing so many of my favorite animal in one morning brought tears to my eyes. There are approximately 400 dogs in the Kruger National Park, the pack we were fortunate to see accounted for 10% of this number! 40 dogs including sub adults.
The morning started early, 4:30 am in November. Eyes half closed, coffee and rusk in hand, I noticed a few dogs rushing down the road toward us. The excitement rose in the car. I chugged down my hot coffee and managed to get my camera into my shaking hands. Since I had saved up for what felt like forever to purchase my camera, this was the first time I was to shoot the endangered African Wild Dog!
If you ever have the fortune to see these animals or even get the opportunity to capture them, you will learn, as I did, that they are incredibly difficult moving targets. They don’t pose, stick around, or even care that you are trying to take some masterpieces of them. My Father also learnt the difficulty of such a task; he always has his little video camera and enjoys playing BBC, in a Monty Python David Attenborough hybrid production. The sum total of my fathers contribution to this nature extravaganza was to film the gear lever, and to zoom in and out on the back of my head.
The dogs raced past us in the car, my fiance who has sleeping powers like no other was still coming to terms with frenzy of excitement and poor camera work within the car. I slammed the car into reverse and followed the dogs as they trotted at an effortless 25km jog.
I was driving, and this was not making the task any easier. I must have taken a couple hundred shots that morning, to get very few that I am proud of. Although I’m sure that I could convince some that the blurs were to add an artistic understanding of movement.
These dogs were adults, and were clearly on some mission. I figured they would continue in the direction the mission appeared to be going. Then without slowing or any warning to their human companions, the dogs turned around and bolted back up the road from where they had passed earlier. It appeared to be the decision of one rather large and battle-scarred male.
I spun the car around and followed back up the road… We caught up with the dogs at the top of a hill just before an open plain. We went slightly ahead in an attempt to get some shots of the dogs face on. At the top of the hill in the open plain were a large group of sub adults shaking with excitement.
The next scene brought tears of joy. I can’t explain why or how. Maybe it was the level of pure joy that unfurled or that I was experiencing something truly special.
The adults picked up pace and young-ins lost all sense of patience. The two groups of dogs collided in a frenzy of excitement and games in the open plain right in front of us. As the group met up, the Kruger God blessed us, with what we call the magic hour!
Magic Hour – This is a daily occurrence in the bush, that happens once in the morning and again in the evening. It is an hour of perfect lighting. Morning light just before it gets too harsh and evening light just before it gets dark. As a photographer you pray to see something during the hour.
The dogs played all sorts of chase games, pushing each other over and nipping at each others tails. It’s rare to see such care free moments in the bush, where everything is about catching the next meal and watching your back to ensure you’re not the next meal.
Just when we thought the games were over, the dogs turned away from the road and disappeared into the lush summer bush…